Apple Arcade is a subscription service that lets users play 107 premium iPad, iPhone, Mac and Apple TV games as often as they like for a set monthly fee. But which ones are worth your time?
We've been burning our way through Arcade's library ever since the launch of iOS 13, and will keep going until we've reviewed every single one. Our ranking of the best Apple Arcade games will be updated once a week - every Friday at noon UK time - until we've played everything. This week's new games are No Way Home (15) and Various Daylife (53).
We tested primarily on iPhone. We also tried all the games with an Xbox controller and a Rotor Riot wired controller to see if this worked and how well it suited the gameplay; we found that many games supported Bluetooth controllers despite not mentioning this fact in their App Store description.
1. What The Golf?
This bizarre and genuinely funny sports sim - "Golf for people who hate golf" - hits a hole in one for relentless ingenuity: the courses feature exploding barrels, cats and runaway cars, and half the time you find yourself playing with a cow or a carpet instead of a ball. As soon as you feel like the makers must have exhausted the possibilities of the format they surprise you yet again.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but we don't recommend it) • What The Golf? on the App Store
Here's Arcade's take on the Bejeweled/Candy Crush template, and as you'd expect it's both gorgeous and far more interesting than most of the clones in that space.
Trace a path across matching creatures - accounting for certain complications, such as treasure chests, boss monsters and magic stones that let you transition to a different colour - and then hit Go. Instead of a gentle tinkling of jewels, you'll be rewarded with a ridiculously gory (albeit cartoonish) animation.
Far easier to pick up than it is to put down, Grindstone also wins the prize for the most addictive Arcade game we've yet tried.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (awkwardly) • Grindstone on the App Store
3. Bleak Sword
Devolver's low-fi action RPG takes the style and atmosphere of Dark Souls and puts it through an 8bit filter. Use quick swipes to dodge monsters and slash them bloodily to pieces: it's fast, exciting and masses of fun - as well as super-cool to look at.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Bleak Sword on the App Store
Turn-based squad strategy game that strongly recalls the classic board game Space Hulk, only simpler and graphically cuter.
Controlling a handful of heroic space rangers, you're investigating an alien-riddled abandoned colony, shooting, kicking and grenading your way to various mission goals. Great fun.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is easier) • Spaceland on the App Store
5. Shinsekai Into the Depths
Cast into a stunningly detailed, treacherous underwater world, you will be pursued not only by ice slowly setting in but a swathe of sea creatures ranging from cute to downright terrifying. Blast around with jet packs, mine minerals to convert into oxygen and uncover the secrets of the depths in this gorgeous, vibrant and unique underwater exploration game. Lewis Painter
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Shinsekai Into the Depths on the App Store
Singularly lovely gardening-themed adventure game, in which the mutants and monsters you encounter play (mostly) second fiddle to a compassionate story about loss and the healing powers of community. Strongly recommended, but give it a chance: it takes a while to get going.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Mutazione on the App Store
7. Card of Darkness
Wonderful to look at (unsurprisingly, since the animator Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time fame was involved), Card of Darkness proves it's more than a pretty face with an elegant and compelling design with masses of depth.
Age 9+ • Single player only • No controller support • Card of Darkness on the App Store
Look up the word charming in the dictionary and you ought to see a screenshot of this nostalgically animated adventure game, in which you solve a variety of problems such as slaying a dragon and capturing a priest's soul.
Unusually, it takes the form of a card game - each time you collect an item, or acquire a new character, this is added to your deck and played at opportune moments. But we found this to be more an aesthetic than a gameplay decision: in practical terms playing a card works out largely the same as pressing a 'use X with Y' button.
No, this game is all about the character, which is simultaneously dark and adorable, the weird leaps of logic and the gorgeous look. It also has respectable replayability, since there are multiple solutions and multiple endings, and 45 achievement cards to collect.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (sort of, and it's better on touchscreen anyway) • Pilgrims on the App Store
FTL reimagined as a road trip; the Walking Dead scripted by Cormac McCarthy; a turn-based version of Resident Evil. This survival game takes its inspiration from the best, and the result is melancholy and fiercely difficult.
Each level is both a puzzle and a fragment of isometric Americana: a few squares of tarmac, grass, picnic tables, abandoned cars and danger. As the monsters close in, you have to make decisions about what resources you need, and what (and who) you'll have to leave behind. It's a fascinating and thrilling game.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Overland on the App Store
Blissful, combat-free town builder that we would love to play all the time.
The sense of atmosphere is wonderful, from the Untitled Goose Game sprites and changing light to the calming taps and clinks as your houses are built and your trees felled. And we applaud the way each level really feels like a level in its own right, with specific goals and (genuinely difficult) challenges - something that isn't always achieved by strategy games of this type.
We have very few complaints but must add that the swipe detection is sometimes a little overkeen, causing us to frequently overshoot when moving around the map. And the nighttime sections are rather dull, since your people all go to sleep - but luckily you can speed these up to 20x.
Age 12+ • Single player only • No controller support • Outlanders on the App Store
11. Tangle Tower
Detective adventure game based around a locked-room murder. So engrossing that we stayed up half the night trying to solve it.
We haven't played either of the previous Detective Grimoire titles, and perhaps this is why we felt a little overwhelmed at first: the game never really explains how to go about interrogations, for example. And the case is wilfully complicated, packed with twists, turns, red herrings and background flavour text.
But that sensation of just barely understanding what's going on is textbook golden-age murder mystery, and quite pleasurable if you go along with it. And the story, graphics, voice acting and humour are all of such exceptional quality that even crime-solving newbies will have a blast.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is easier) • Tangle Tower on the App Store
Unsettling horror puzzle platformer with superb sound design and an evocative low-fi look.
Exploring a mysterious and danger-filled world you alternate, Lost Vikings-style, between three totally different characters: a defenceless child, a mostly defenceless man (who can at least run and jump) and a nigh-on indestructible knight. And these characters lend their respective sections a pleasing variety without spoiling the coherence of the whole, which is tied together by the spellbinding aesthetic.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Inmost on the App Store
13. Cricket Through the Ages
This utterly ridiculous ragdoll cricket sim made us laugh constantly. Very silly, and very fun.
Age 4+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Cricket Through the Ages on the App Store
14. Oceanhorn 2
Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is hands-down one of the most beautifully crafted, console-like games available as part of Apple Arcade. Though the original wasn't to be sniffed at, Oceanhorn 2 takes the RPG experience to the next level with high-end 3D graphics, tactical combat and an engaging story that'll keep you hooked as you hack-and-slash your way across the huge open-world map.
There are meaningful gameplay improvements too, including a new caster weapon that can wipe out gangs of enemies with an explosive fireball or a blast of ice, and the ability to heal yourself mid-battle with a spell.
The touchscreen controls are good, incidentally, but for the full experience we'd recommend a hardware controller. Lewis Painter
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Oceanhorn 2 on the App Store
15. No Way Home
Simple and exhilarating twin-stick shooter with excellent cartoon graphics and a characterful story. You're piloting and gradually upgrading a petite spaceship on a mission to find its way back to Earth, and blasting your way through the space pirates and other ne'er-do-wells that stand in your way.
The shoot-'em-up action works decently with the onscreen controls, although switching between your gun and grappling hook is a challenge, and your thumbs occasionally obscure the action; it works superbly with a controller.
Our only quibble is that the game appeared unable to load a save game when offline, but didn't outright state this - the load button just didn't do anything. Which was mildly irritating.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • No Way Home on the App Store
16. Dread Nautical
Turn-based squad survival game with a pleasingly unusual look and atmosphere that reminded us of the mighty Grim Fandango.
Your job is to recruit a team of fellow survivors - who manage to present distinct and sympathetic characters despite their fingerless, almost lumpen appearance - and direct them around a cruise liner that's stuck in some kind of zombie-themed Bermuda Triangle. You'll need to kill baddies, collect food and healing items, and craft new equipment in your base between missions.
The loading screen delays are a mild irritation, but the mystery is intriguing and we enjoyed the combat and resource management elements.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but is a little awkward - touchscreen is easier) • Dread Nautical on the App Store
17. Neo Cab
"Making small talk in a taxi" isn't perhaps the most appealing description a game could have, but Neo Cab is better than it sounds.
So yes, it's a taxi sim, but you don't need to worry about the actual driving. This is about deciding which fares to accept, and how to deal with them once they're in the back of your car: which line of conversation will uncover useful information, and which will annoy them so much that they tank your rating?
The world-building is terrific, with an uncomfortably plausible gig-economy dystopia fleshed out without resorting to exposition dumping. And the graphics are wonderfully precise - which is important, as the emotional cues you get from the sprites' faces give you hints about when to back off from a dodgy topic.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Neo Cab on the App Store
18. ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree
Moody RPG with a beguiling look: cartoon scandi saga with a dash of neon. The story is great, the visuals and music fantastic, and the overall experience a lot of fun.
There's less combat than you might expect from a game with such a lot of death in it: exploration, dialogue and puzzles take up more of your time. But when it does happen, combat takes the form of a rhythm mini game in which shapes cascade down the screen, Guitar Hero-style, and you try to tap in time to the music.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree on the App Store
19. The Mosaic
Surreal narrative/adventure game about the loneliness of city life.
Playing as a downtrodden office drone, you have to get up each morning, read your texts, brush your teeth and go to work, where your job takes the form of a mini game faintly reminiscent of World of Goo. As you go through these repetitive motions, odd things start to happen...
The controls are a little sluggish and awkward (your character walks at a glacial pace, which may be a conscious decision but is still frustrating) and the starting concept of a commuter looking for meaning in life feels a little trite. But the Mosaic's visual imagination is so rich and unexpected, and its humour so acute, that it gets away with it.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • The Mosaic on the App Store
20. Sneaky Sasquatch
A cheeky stealth game with the merest hint of Surgeon Simulator, Sneaky Sasquatch is charming and masses of fun. You play as the titular hirsute cryptid and have to tiptoe (and occasionally sprint) around the bins, barbecues and caravans of an unnamed US national park, trying to avoid the prying eyes and ears of the tourists and park rangers who want to stop you getting your hands on their tasty pickernick baskets.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Sneaky Sasquatch on the App Store
Cheerful, simplified take on the Magic: The Gathering concept, in which you construct a deck of 'Power Pets' cards and do battle with your rivals.
The card battles are brilliant, with surprising depth - you can even customise your cards with stat-boosting stickers and rename them in honour of your favourite cricketers etc - and joyously cartoonish artwork. What's especially nice, however, is that the framing RPG narrative that takes you from fight to fight (and allows you to earn and swap rare cards) manages to be so much more: it's a funny and intriguing story about trying to fit in at a new school where something weird is going on, and is crammed with missions and side missions.
Our only complaint would be that tapping cards to examine them more closely often adds them to a deck instead, and vice versa. The controls are occasionally a tiny bit clumsy, and feel like they might have been designed with bigger screens in mind than an iPhone.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Cardpocalypse on the App Store
22. Assemble with Care
This gentle puzzler from Ustwo Games, on a hot streak after producing the two Monument Valley games, is a delight. You play as Maria, an antiques restorer on a working holiday, and get to know the inhabitants of the town of Bellariva as you mend their most treasured objects. The story is occasionally a tiny bit heavy-handed, but it's also sweet and very beautiful.
Read more in our full Assemble with Care review.
Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • Assemble with Care on the App Store
Quirky RPG set in a fantasy world with technology roughly equivalent to our own, and consequently riddled with text speak and selfies and 'battery power' instead of hit points. And despite all that it's not awful. Not even slightly.
Admittedly we found the setting and combat system (in which you simply have to survive, using various defensive strategies, until the monster gets tired and leaves) so weird at first that we struggled to engage, but it clicks around the time your second party member joins. And then you start to appreciate the oddness, the total absence of RPG cliche, as well as the intriguing story and funny dialogue.
Be warned that the save system, at least when we tested, was worryingly prone to create duplicates, and often needed advice on which to keep. (The developers are aware of this so it's likely to be dealt with in an update.) More significantly, we found it frustrating how arbitrarily the game changes your characters' mood status, given how critical this is to the special abilities they are allowed to use. It might be more fun to roleplay in a free and easy way without having to worry about the gameplay consequences of one misjudged joke.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Guildlings on the App Store
24. Sayonara Wild Hearts
Static screenshots don't do justice to Sayonara's joyous combo of speed and music. This is all about overwhelming the senses - as well as a soundtrack so great that we've been listening to little else on Apple Music, it has a neon fantasy look all its own - and pushing your fast-twitch responses to the limit.
Why isn't it higher, then? The touchscreen controls aren't great. You can direct your motorbike/car/ghostly stag/whatever you're driving in the current level with swipes or by leaning a finger in either direction, but this is neither easy nor intuitive at high speed. It's immensely better with a hardware controller, we're happy to report.
(Also, make sure you turn off the skip feature in the settings. It's a nice idea for the game to offer to bypass sections you've repeatedly failed, but in practice it's hugely demoralising.)
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Sayonara Wild Hearts on the App Store
25. The Bradwell Conspiracy
Crafted by the studio behind Surgeon Simulator and Worlds Adrift, The Bradwell Conspiracy is an enticing first-person puzzler that'll leave you scratching your head. Set in the recently damaged Stonehenge Museum, it's down to you to explore and escape the crumbling mess, but not everything is as it seems...
As the name suggests, conspiracies are rife in The Bradwell Conspiracy, and while the campaign is engaging and enjoyable, it's the lore of the world and the secrets that you stumble on that really make the game something special. Pair that with the unique relationship you have with the disembodied voice of another trapped (NPC) survivor and you've got a game you'll be thinking about long after you've completed it. Lewis Painter
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • The Bradwell Conspiracy on the App Store
26. Doomsday Vault
There's something very restful about this robotic eco-puzzler.
You wander around the wreckage of an ominously familiar fallen civilisation, Wall-E style (although you look more like his co-star Eve), collecting endangered plants and the nutrients required to sustain them. There are walls to climb, buttons to press, pressure pads to weigh down with boxes and obstacles that need to be blown or powered up by tools you acquire over the course of the game.
There's little jeopardy in all this, with no time pressure and comparatively little chance of failure (without the puzzles ever becoming boringly straightforward), and the whole thing, from the look and level design to the excellent music, is very lovely. Our only quibble is Doomsday Vault's occasional tendency to boot you out of a session with the loss of recent progress: this seems most common when you go from off- to online play and vice versa, and adds an incongruously stressful element to an otherwise soul-soothing game.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Doomsday Vault on the App Store
27. Speed Demons
Simple-looking but kickass top-down racing game that's terrific at creating a sense of speed and danger. The music is exciting, there's a huge variety of missions - sometimes you're trying to make checkpoints, sometimes you're deliberately wrecking targets, sometimes you're running away from baddies - and weaving through a particularly mad traffic jam feels great.
One potential weak spot, however, concerns the controls. Acceleration is automatic, so you just need to handle the steering by swiping left or right; but the tight portrait layout and a natural tendency for your thumb to creep upwards means you often end up obscuring the vehicle. A hardware controller makes things easier.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Speed Demons on the App Store
28. Exit the Gungeon
Fiendishly difficult bullet-hell shooter with lo-fi graphics and a great sense of humour.
You're trying to escape from the 'Gungeon' by ascending through levels infested with gun- and pun-toting bad guys. Fortunately you have a gun of your own (which continually changes form, enabling you to shoot skulls, bubbles and musical notes as well as the more traditional bullets) and the ability to evade danger with dodge rolls.
Early runs will end in swift death, but stick with it; the game rewards perseverance. If you liked Super Crate Box - and who didn't? - then you'll love this.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Exit the Gungeon on the App Store
29. Mini Motorways
We've all been stuck in traffic and exclaimed to our passengers that we could devise a better road system than the local council. Mini Motorways lets you put that claim to the test, tasking you with developing an ever-growing road and motorway network for busy cities around the world with the aim of getting busy residents from point A to B.
It's a challenge at first, giving you a newfound appreciation for those much-maligned municipal planners, but as you learn the nuances your confidence - and the complexity of your road systems - will increase. Lewis Painter
Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • Mini Motorways on the App Store
30. The Pinball Wizard
What if the song Pinball Wizard was about an actual... wizard? So, presumably, ran the thought processes of the developers responsible for this adorably silly number, in which you climb a tower whose floors take the form of increasingly difficult pinball tables and your little magic user acts as the projectile.
We love the idea that a game was created on the strength of a single flimsy pun, but Pinball Wizard is a decent offering in its own right: the RPG elements give it replay value and the whole thing is perfectly suited to bite-sized gaming sessions.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • The Pinball Wizard on the App Store
31. Manifold Garden
Brain-melting first-person gravity puzzler with something of Portal's ingenuity - although that game's witty backstory is replaced here by quiet abstraction.
Approach a wall and you'll see a circle in a matching colour; tap this to make that wall 'ground', and everything else rotate to match. It takes a while to grasp the navigational possibilities this opens up, but the game's breathtaking sense of scale hits the second you step outside the first building.
We had one quibble. You can invert the Y axis, but for some reason this option didn't carry across to our hardware controller, which is more than a little annoying.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Manifold Garden on the App Store
32. Rayman Mini
Even by the standards of 90s platform protagonists, Rayman always struck us as half-assed; and his 'cool dude' looks and woohoo sound effects remain unlovable in this latest iteration. Fortunately, the game itself is far more impressive.
It's an auto-run platformer in the vein of Super Mario Run, and while it can't quite match that title's peerless level design it also avoids its greatest flaw: Rayman Mini works perfectly offline.
The music is excellent, adding to the sense of headlong jeopardy that is so essential to games of this type. If you're a platform fan new to Arcade, this is where you should start.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (and the use of one is heavily recommended) • Rayman Mini on the App Store
33. Jenny LeClue - Detectivu
Likeable, player-friendly adventure game about a crime-solving prodigy who loves tackling cases, whether they involve gruesome murders or lost glasses.
Spotting the clues is rarely an enormous challenge (there are giveaway graphic effects when you need to employ your magnifying glass, for example), but the story is funny and whimsical and the whole thing thoroughly enjoyable.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Jenny LeClue - Detectivu on the App Store
34. Painty Mob
The idea behind Painty Mob is a simple one. You take on the role of weird, blob-like characters (of which there are many to unlock) as you splash vibrant paint across your dreary world and score points in the process. There's a catch, though: the residents aren't happy being covered in paint and respond by forming a mob, chasing you around to stop your paint-flinging escapades.
As you cover your environment and its residents in paint you'll start chaining together colourful combos, speeding up gameplay and upping the ante - it only takes one wrong step to fall prey to the angry mob chasing you. You progress through a variety of themed levels, with some even featuring old-school boss fights, but you'll start from the beginning once you've been caught (and presumably turfed out of the group!).
It's essentially an endless runner with themed levels, but that's no bad thing; as long as you're content with progression in the form of new characters and environments, you'll find a lot to love about Painty Mob. Lewis Painter
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (and is far better with one) • Painty Mob on the App Store
35. Fallen Knight
Pleasingly hectic Metroidvania-type 2D beat 'em up, in which you leap about the place slashing bad guys to pieces with your sword.
The combat is great fun and feels harder than it is, in a good way. Less happily the game commits the cardinal sin of forcing you to sit through the tiresome introductory bit every time you restart a boss fight, and these actually are difficult; we must have watched the first guy flex and threaten to kill us 30 times.
Finally, note that it's much easier to handle the speedy combat when using a hardware controller, but this appears to be imperfectly implemented; on some menus we couldn't find a button for 'confirm' and had to resort to a tap. Indeed, the tutorial assumed we were using onscreen controls, which makes us wonder if this is officially supported.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Mostly supports hardware controllers - and benefits from them - but occasionally you have to tap onscreen • Fallen Knight on the App Store
36. ChuChu Rocket! Universe
Like all the best puzzle games, ChuChu starts with a simple concept - the placing of arrow markers to redirect scurrying mice, Lemmings-style, away from hazards and towards a target - but then ramps up the difficulty with an array of complications. The graphics have a pleasing old-school cheesiness, and the central mechanic is so compelling that it enters your dreams.
The standard mode involves careful planning and execution but multiplayer games (and occasional challenge levels in single-player) are completely different, requiring you to place arrows on the fly and under huge pressure. This is a lot of fun too, although we had trouble persuading the servers to set up a multiplayer contest with real people and contented ourselves with being thrashed by an AI.
Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • ChuChu Rocket! Universe on the App Store
37. Cat Quest II
Those who can handle the paw/woof/meow puns will get a lot out of this two-player RPG. (It can also be played solo, in which case you'll be able to alternate between controlling the cat and dog main characters.)
There are tons of missions and all the usual reptile-brain pleasures of collecting spells, weapons and armour, and levelling up your character - even if levelling up is not massively exciting here because it happens automatically, with no 'skill points' to distribute or similar.
Ultimately this is probably aimed at a slightly younger/more whimsical audience than us, and we found the relentless parade of cute cartoon cats and dogs a little wearing after a while. But there's a good-quality mobile RPG here, under the fur and whiskers.
Age 9+ • 1-2 players • No controller support • Cat Quest II on the App Store
38. Super Impossible Road
Created by the minds behind the original Impossible Road, Super Impossible Road takes the ball-rolling experience to a whole new level. You've still got to keep the ball on the road for as long as possible - which in itself is a challenge - but you've also got access to a career mode with a number of challenges, and an online mode where you can showcase your death-defying leaps from the track and beat your buddies at the same time.
It's not a game that you'll spend hours on at a time, but it's a great time killer if you've got a spare five minutes. Lewis Painter
Age 4+ • 1-8 players • No controller support • Super Impossible Road on the App Store
39. Things That Go Bump
Peculiar multiplayer fighting game in which ghosts possess inanimate objects and use them to build fighting machines. In the kitchen level, for instance, your roaming spirit could grab a cheese grater for a body, wheels, googly eyes and a carving knife - then swap these for alternatives when the fancy (or another spirit) strikes you.
This description possibly oversells the degree of customisability in the game as it currently stands, and it unsurprisingly doesn't seem to make any non-aesthetic difference whether your core object is a toaster or an iron. Your choice of weapon is more significant: most of these are quite slow, so you'll want to grab the speedy spatula as soon as possible.
It's all pretty fun, on the whole, but a little limited, particularly in single player. And use a controller if you can; the onscreen controls are hard to hit accurately and quickly under pressure.
Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Things That Go Bump on the App Store
40. Stranded Sails
Spoiler alert: you get shipwrecked about five minutes into this nautical RPG, and from then on your duties are more to do with building shacks and growing crops than sailing the seven seas. It's more Don't Starve than Oceanhorn.
The graphics aren't great: water effects look basic and your sprite lopes around like a puppet. Text occasionally feels like it's been translated by someone unfamiliar with English. And the controls are mixed, with the touchscreen 'joypad' hard to use but a marked lack of assistance finding the right button if you resort (as you should) to a hardware controller.
All this against it, but dammit, Stranded Sails is fun! The game has the knack of offering constant and essentially unchallenging progress (although there's some gentle 'push your luck' jeopardy when trying not to run out of food when exploring) and frankly we couldn't get enough of it. A begrudging recommendation, perhaps, but a recommendation nonetheless.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (and is much better with one, despite occasional difficulties locating the correct button) • Stranded Sails on the App Store
41. Red Reign
Slower turn-based titles do all right (as amply demonstrated by Civilization VI) but it's hard to imagine real-time strategy making sense on iOS devices or Apple TV: all that fast, fiddly micromanagement cries out for a mouse and keyboard hotkeys.
Red Reign gets around this by drastically simplifying unit control to the extent that you can tell them to do precisely two things: charge off down one of the lanes leading to the enemy base (each lane has its own chunky button) or stay put and guard yours. They're pretty self-reliant, so you can then concentrate on upgrading your base, producing more units or holding your finger down on trees or your gold mine so you generate resources more quickly.
A weirdly simple take on the RTS genre, then, but one that's perfectly suited to smaller screens. And the visuals are lovely, seemingly blended from equal parts Kingdom Rush and old-school Warcraft.
Age 9+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Red Reign on the App Store
The mechanical concept here evokes the mighty Ridiculous Fishing, in that you spend the game controlling the descending business end of a fishing rod as it seeks out prey in the watery depths. This similarity is only skin-deep, however, and your control of the rod is so unrestricted that it is essentially just a free-roaming underwater action game.
As such things go the gameplay is pretty solid, however: each level involves combat, puzzle elements, hidden coins and a concluding boss fight. The 'fish' you seek are really electronic devices capable of making a specific musical sound, and the sounds thus gathered can be used to compose tunes in a compositional subgame.
Graphically Monomals is hugely winning, with the primary-colour exuberance of classic SEGA titles, and overall this is a thoroughly cheerful effort.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Monomals on the App Store
43. Down in Bermuda
Someone's been playing Monument Valley. Which isn't a bad thing, necessarily; if you're going to imitate, imitate the best.
Like its inspiration, Down in Bermuda is an attractive, tactile puzzle game in which you manipulate levers, buttons and stone structures with taps and swipes. These puzzles are both tricky and satisfying to solve - but they are only half the challenge. You also have to find the stars scattered across each level, and this has more than a hint of trial and error.
The game is also weirdly short, with only three islands, one of which is a tutorial level with very little substance - although more are promised in future. In Arcade, shortness is by no means a crime, but in this case it feels like we've barely started to explore either the story (about a stranded pilot) or the scope of the puzzle mechanics when the curtain falls.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but is easier via touchscreen) • Down in Bermuda on the App Store
44. Lifelike: Chapter One
You're a ball of light, right - stay with me here - surrounded by particles. There's some kind of bioluminescent shape moving towards you. It's like you're watching and interacting with microscopic organisms in the ocean... but not quite.
Lifelike looks and sounds incredible, and induces a sense of genuine childlike wonder for the first few levels. But in sheer gameplay terms there's not a huge amount going on: what you're trying to do, most of the time, is persuade an object that you don't control to move the screen towards an unknown goal. There are clues, but there's also a lot of trial and error.
It's flawed and somewhat limited as a game, then. But go with the flow and you'll enjoy it for the strange, calming, trippy experience that it is.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers, although we find it easier to make small movements via touchscreen • Lifelike: Chapter One on the App Store
Frazzled commuters will enjoy this soothing puzzler, which brings the pleasures of a Bank Holiday jigsaw to your mobile screen - in both landscape and portrait mode, which is an unusual bonus.
Each level begins life as a silent black-and-white sketch, but as you place the right pieces on to the board the colours gradually reappear and music plays. It's all rather lovely, and the back-to-front difficulty curve - tricky at first but easier as the pieces build up - is generally satisfying.
We will add, however, that the level-specific difficulty is wildly inconsistent, and there's no apparent way to request an easy or advanced puzzle. It all depends on how repetitive the pattern is, and to what extent this repetition happens to map to the grid: on Kawaii Cookout we kept getting pieces that fitted perfectly in four different places, which turned it into unsatisfying trial and error.
Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • Patterned on the App Store
46. Shantae and the Seven Sirens
Polished but largely conventional action-platformer in which a half-naked half-genie leaps about the screen killing baddies with her hair and, later, magic. Fans of the series won't be disappointed, although we found the onscreen controls super-frustrating, frequently hitting jump instead of attack (or vice-versa) at critical moments - it's much better when played with a hardware controller.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Shantae and the Seven Sirens on the App Store
47. Lego Brawls
Online multiplayer fighter based on the popular brick-based construction toy. The action is simple but fun: running around one of several 2D arenas and battering one another with guns and handheld weaponry. The more you play, the more minifigure parts are unlocked for you to customise your character, which is cosmetic but charming.
The game itself is enjoyable, then, but it seems to be either excessively dependent on a good network connection, or underpopulated, or both; we have yet to successfully set up a Party game, and on multiple occasions (even when connected to what we believed to be reasonably decent Wi-Fi) our Brawl games have been plagued by lag. This is a little annoying, given Apple Arcade's promises of offline play. The only offline part of the game is an uninspiring Training mode.
Age 9+ • 1-10 players • Supports hardware controllers (and virtually requires one) • Lego Brawls on the App Store
48. Don't Bug Me!
Tower defence game which sometimes pretends to be a first-person shooter. You're a Martian explorer trying to hold out against the alien hordes surrounding your tiny base; sometimes you're building defensive structures (automated lasers, exploding barriers etc), and sometimes you're switching view and gunning them down personally.
It's all about multitasking, then: simultaneously keeping an eye on the radar, the condition of your towers, the available solar power for building new towers and your personal ammo supply. It's a little stressful, for this reason, and somewhat limited in scope, but pretty fun nonetheless.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is fine, and probably easier) • Don't Bug Me on the App Store
Sharing numerous beats with Assemble With Care, Possessions also weaves an understated story around a series of simple puzzles. And if that's your jam you should undoubtedly try both.
In this case the puzzles are so easy and the entire thing so brief (you'll finish in 45 minutes) that in pure gaming terms we have to rank it lower. The 'moral of the story' is also rather simple (and probably guessable from the title), but we love the game's wordless delivery of that message: it first encourages you to explore and revel in beautiful spaces, and then makes you question what those spaces are really worth.
Age 9+ • Single player only • No controller support • Possessions on the App Store
We've been having some good times with this turn-based tactical RPG, which is deep, tense and blessed with excellent artwork. But here's our reservation: the card-playing elements feel like an afterthought.
Deck building is a fashionable (and very rewarding) genre but blending it into an RPG framework is not easy. Spelldrifter waits a fair while, perhaps tellingly, before letting you have any control over your cards, and even then you're constructing your deck between fights rather than in-game - in other words, it's more Magic: The Gathering than Ascension. The cards themselves look great but they're mostly just attacks, heals and buffs; you don't get a lot of the interesting combos and synergies that you get in Dream Quest, for instance.
Also, parents of small children may find that the cock-rock soundtrack reminds them of Blaze and the Monster Machines, which rather undercuts the atmosphere.
Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is easier) • Spelldrifter on the App Store
This gorgeous, gentle puzzler puts you in the role of a back-garden watercolorist. On each level a few blobs of paint are dripped on to your canvas, along with one or more 'targets' which you have to reach with a specific colour by applying swiped brushstrokes and, frequently, mixing two colours together.
This simple concept is quickly complicated by mazes of pre-painted lines and colour-cancelling water droplets, and the 50 levels provided at launch (the end credits say more are on the way) get reasonably mind-bending by the end, while remaining pleasingly relaxing at the same time.
But there's a messiness to the puzzles that we found unsatisfying - sometimes you're not sure if you're doing the wrong thing, or doing the right thing clumsily (this isn't helped by the puzzle being partially hidden under your finger). And often the solution turns out to be "go round the back of that blob that doesn't look there's enough room behind it".
Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • tint. on the App Store
Tasteful but slightly antiseptic puzzle game in which you manipulate perspective (hence, presumably, the name) to guide a ball around line-drawn objects. Undeniably cleverly designed, Spek shares Monument Valley's sense of optical mischief - and relatively gentle difficulty curve - but not its heart.
Bonus points, however, for the interesting AR mode, where the puzzles are projected on to the surfaces of your home, office etc and you reach a solution by physically walking around.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is easier) • Spek on the App Store
53. Various Daylife
When the adventuring starts, Various Daylife turns out to be a relatively conventional turn-based party RPG, albeit with a confusing combat system. But adventuring is a very small part of this game.
Most of your time is spent back in town, taking on (sometimes hilariously banal) jobs for stat boosts and money. Note that you don't have to actually do the job, or even see it happen; you just choose it from the menu screen, then wait for the message announcing if you were successful or not.
The game's graphics and sound are unsurprisingly of a very high quality, and we like how experimental and strange it all feels as a concept. But there's no getting away from the fact that this is basically quite a dull way to spend your time.
Age 12+ • Single player only • No controller support • Various Daylife on the App Store
54. Lego Builder’s Journey
The look and sound of this tasteful puzzler are superb, but it has too many issues for a straight recommendation. Which is a great shame, because the idea of a Lego-based puzzle game is hugely appealing.
For one thing, the controls and camera are awkward; we played the game from start to finish and at no point felt truly accustomed to them. It's hard to see what exactly you're doing, and where exactly the piece you're currently holding is going to be placed, and while you can rotate the view a little, it will then revert to the default view at an inconvenient moment. There's no zoom.
Beyond this, there's a kind of dishonesty to quite a lot of the puzzles - even if it's of a sort that is relatively common in games of this type. We feel strongly that it should be possible to divine the solution to a puzzle working entirely from the visible clues and components (and the game's internal logic), but quite often you're instead trying to guess what arbitrary action will provoke the level into giving you the extra bricks needed for the solution.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (which make the controls a little easier) • Lego Builder's Journey on the App Store
55. Unleash The Light
Colourful but slightly forgettable turn-based RPG set in the Steven Universe, er, universe. It's divided into levels, unusually, and your job is to fight the baddies (controlling a team of four characters), solve the puzzles and find the secrets.
The aforementioned puzzles are quite nice: they're all about moving mirrored stones to reflect beams of light on to colour-coded pyramids. But combat is pretty samey, because you get a set number of action points each turn regardless of how many characters are still alive and the temptation (and seemingly best tactic) is to spam the best attacks and ignore the weaker characters. There are plenty of attacks and items but we were unable to find any interesting combos or synergies; if there's gameplay depth here it isn't quick to announce itself.
And as for the storyline, we found it somewhere between nonsensical and non-existent. Perhaps those who are familiar with the TV show will get more out of it.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Unleash The Light on the App Store
56. Punch Planet
One-on-one beat 'em up of a kind rarely seen on iOS. So Punch Planet has novelty if nothing else.
The cyberpunk cartoon graphics are great and we love the atmosphere. But there's not a lot of variety: there are only six characters and we've seen just four arenas, of which one is a near-featureless training ground. Possibly more will be unlocked later in the game, or added in a future update.
There aren't that many special moves either, and we found some aspects of the gameplay a little odd. The 'jump over their head and do a flying kick from behind' tactic that we've (over)used in every fighting game we've ever played doesn't work, for instance, with the sprites seemingly unable to change direction in midair. But it feels pretty fast and slick, and is a pleasant enough distraction.
Age 12+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers (and using one is pretty much essential) • Punch Planet on the App Store
57. Way of the Turtle
Amiable and attractive platformer that suffers from a (thematically understandable) lack of speediness and occasionally woolly collision detection.
Actually becomes easier when played on a hardware controller, since you no longer have to swipe to change direction. Be aware that the 'confirm' action may be mapped to the Menu or similar button, rather than the expected X or A.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Way of the Turtle on the App Store
58. Projection: First Light
This stunning-looking platformer is distinctly reminiscent of Limbo, which is no bad thing; but whereas that game used shadows to conjure an atmosphere of dread, Projection feels more magical.
It's set in a world of shadow puppets: the key is manipulating the light source to create and transform shadows for moving around the levels. It's a clever gimmick but it takes a while to get going and the control method - as on Limbo, to be fair - is a little frustrating, and the shadows occasionally glitchy.
Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Projection: First Light on the App Store
59. Skate City
Attractive and popular skateboard sim from the makers of, and similar to, Alto's Adventure. Muted, chilled-out visuals and music generate bags of atmosphere and there are lots of special tricks and character customisations to unlock.
We would add, however, that a 2D skating game loses the exploratory aspect of a Tony Hawk: stairs, ramps, rails etc are brought to you in automatic sequence rather than having to be discovered. And squares like us may find that all skateboard moves look pretty much the same when rendered as realistically as they are here.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Skate City on the App Store
60. Sonic Racing
Sonic the Hedgehog refuses to go quietly into the long night; not only is the lightning-fast hedgehog featuring in a new film due out next year, but there's a never-ending stream of Sonic-themed games available for mobile devices and tablets too. The latest is Sonic Racing, a cartoony racer that draws a number of parallels with what many consider to be the OG game of its kind: Mario Kart.
You can race with 15 characters from the Sonic franchise on 15 maps and unlock 15 wisps to give you the edge in races, whether access to enhanced boost pads or the ability to suck in nearby coins. What's different from Mario Kart is the availability of teams; in Sonic Racing, you race in teams of three with each character offering unique buffs to lend a helping hand when needed.
It's good fun, but with coin collection a requirement for upgrades, it's easy to see that it has been designed with IAPs in mind - even if they're not available while on Apple Arcade. With Mario Kart now officially available for iOS, is there a place for clones in 2019? Some may say yes, but we're going with no. Lewis Painter
Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Sonic Racing on the App Store
61. Hot Lava
If you ever played 'the floor is lava' as a child - which is maybe more of a US than British thing - then this game will press all sorts of jolly nostalgia buttons in your brain. In this case, of course, there's no need to use the wonderful power of a child's imagination because the floor is literally lava, and it's up to you to navigate around the rooms and levels via furniture, hanging brackets and pipes and so on.
It's a great idea (and the Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic is lovely), but the first-person 3D perspective makes it difficult to jump accurately. A controller helps, though.
Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Hot Lava on the App Store
62. Sociable Soccer
Promising football game marred by poor player switching. In other words, it's terrible at knowing which player you want to control when not in possession - generally giving you the nearest one to the ball regardless of whether they're in position to make a challenge. We found ourselves shouting "That one! That one!" a worrying amount.
This is a shame because the Sensible Soccer-esque gameplay style and smart graphics are really nice. A small update could make all the difference, we feel.
Age 4+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers (and is much better with one) • Sociable Soccer on the App Store
63. Ballistic Baseball
Workmanlike sports sim with some good qualities (cheerful graphics, accessible gameplay) but a couple of serious annoyances.
Pitching is rewarding because there are so many variations (batting is an altogether simpler affair), but it's spoiled by the bizarre inability of a pitching team to last a default 3-innings match without running out of subs/collapsing from exhaustion. Adding insult to injury, conceding a home run triggers an unskippable gloating animation which we could really have lived without seeing five times per game.
Age 4+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Ballistic Baseball on the App Store
64. Word Laces
Relaxing if unambitious commuter-friendly word puzzle. Each level presents you with around 6-8 letters or letter groups, and your job is to thread a shoelace between them to form a word linked to the accompanying picture.
We found it slightly frustrating that you'll sometimes find a word that fits the letters and picture but isn't the 'right' answer, and the post-level inspirational messages can be cloying. But we found it hard to stop playing nonetheless, which is generally a good sign.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers, but it's really weird • Word Laces on the App Store
65. Dear Reader
Word game in which you work your way through literary classics, rearranging jumbled sentences and tapping on spelling mistakes. Cosmetically lovely, and we so wanted to like this - but while the idea seems to be that you gain a new-found love of literature by playing with its component parts, our experience was that we skipped across the surface instead. And it's ultimately a tiny bit dull.
Age 12+ • Single player only • No controller support • Dear Reader on the App Store
This high-speed puzzler looks ugly, but more troublingly it is rife with freemium-esque behaviour. Whenever you die, the game reminds you that you can spend coins to restart from a checkpoint; do almost anything for the first time and the game rewards you with a 'skin' for your hexagon sprite, which it then nags you to use.
It's not possible to spend real-world money on coins and skins in Hexaflip, or in any Apple Arcade game; but it's pretty obvious that this was originally designed with money grubbing in mind. And that manifests itself in ways more fundamental to the gameplay than cosmetic add-ons - such as the overhelpful tutorial and too-shallow difficulty curve, both presumably intended to keep punters in the game (and potentially spending money) as long as possible.
This is a shame because Hexaflip's central mechanic - tapping left or right to flip a hexagon through an obstacle course as fast as possible - is fun and, once it gets going, genuinely challenging. We just wish a less mercenary (or mercenary-seeming) game could have been built around it.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Hexaflip on the App Store
67. Big Time Sports
The oversized sprites are a visual delight, but in gameplay terms this one feels like a filler, largely following the Daley Thompson's Decathlon tradition of tapping buttons to match timers, or simply as fast as you can. A few events, such as football, are a lot of fun, but most are pretty boring.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Big Time Sports on the App Store
68. Frogger in Toy Town
Frogger in Toy Town is the least fun Arcade game we've tried so far. How strange that Apple chose it as the showpiece for the service.
Yep, it's Frogger, only with modern graphics and a few concessions to the gameplay conventions of 2019. It's not terrible, by any means - we suspect Apple won't allow any stinkers on to Arcade - and certainly looks nice. But it's not exactly thrilling.
Most importantly the swipe/tap controls are not responsive enough to induce the sense of 'jeopardy narrowly escaped' which was so fundamental to the original's charm. (Using a hardware controller improves things a little.) And we must confess that we were getting mildly bored before we got to the end of the first level.
Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Frogger in Toy Town on the App Store